Why Vagus Nerve Disorders Can Cause Such A Variety Of Symptoms
The Wandering Nerve - Because of its length, and the number of organs it connects to, experiencing vagus nerve disorders isn't really all that uncommon. The vagus nerve is one of the cranial nerves, and it is the longest of the cranial nerves. It extends all the way from the brain stem to the colon, and has been nicknamed the “wandering nerve”. Its name in fact is derived from the Latin word for wandering. The vagus nerve actually branches into two main parts in its travels down the body. The vagus nerve serves the muscles in the mouth, as well the throat and windpipe, the esophagus, lungs and heart, the stomach, and the intestinal tract. The urinary tract is also serviced by this nerve. It's little wonder that any disorder affecting this nerve can cause a variety of different symptoms.
So Many Things To Go Wrong - When we breathe, or when we digest food, this nerve is at work. When our heart is beating, it is also at work, transmitting vital information to and from the brain. The vagus nerve monitors our heart rate to make certain it is regular. If the vagus nerve is stimulated, one of the symptoms can be unconsciousness, since when it is stimulated, our heart rate will slow down and our blood pressure will drop, often significantly. If the heart is impacted due to a vagus nerve disorder, a pacemaker may have to be installed to ensure the heart will beat at a normal rate. If breathing is affected, some kind of breathing apparatus may be needed to allow one to breathe normally. When vagus nerve disorders affect the workings of the esophagus, a person may experience difficulties in swallowing, a condition known as dysphagia, and in extreme cases, may not be able to swallow at all, necessitating being fed through a tube. It is easy to see that people who are suffering from these disorders often require very specialized, and sometimes intensive, care.
Since the larynx or voice box is serviced by the vagus nerve, one of the first symptoms that something has gone awry can be detected by a change in a person's voice. Not only may a person's voice change, but damage to the nerve can sometimes make moving the tongue difficult, which can definitely have an adverse affect on one's ability to speak.
The effects of vagus nerve disorders on digestion can be quite significant. The nerve is not only responsible for diverting blood to the digestive system, but it is also responsible for ensuring that enough blood is diverted to allow food to be processed efficiently. The digestive system can be greatly impacted if a bacterial infection in the digestive tract should spread to the vagus nerve. When the digestive system is affected, the resulting condition is called gastroparesis. Since the this nerve, like other nerves, serves as a communications link between so many different organs and the brain, it is easy to see why any kind of a disorder affecting it can often have very significant consequences.
The Flip Side Of The Coin - In spite of the fact that stimulation of the vagus nerve can lead to one or more vagus nerve disorders, stimulation of the nerve is sometimes resorted to as a means to treat both epilepsy and depression. Stimulation of the vagus nerve is accomplished by surgically implanting a lead wire in the neck that goes to a battery operated device implanted in the chest. The lead wire is wrapped around the vagus nerve. The stimulation device is then programmed, which can be accomplished externally.
The implanted device will send intermittent stimulating pulses to the nerve. These pulses will trigger neurotransmitter production, which in turn reduces the symptoms of depression. Or, the stimulation can arrest and even prevent epileptic seizures. In this case, the stimulation is usually triggered externally, by means of a magnet carried by the person who is prone to experiencing such seizures.
Stimulating the vagus nerve can be a tricky business at times. If not done just right, stimulating the nerve can produce some of the same symptoms that a disorder of the vagus nerve might produce. If the devices should malfunction, the patient may undergo some discomfort. It will usually function for a number of years however before the battery must be replenished, All in all, the implanting of a vagus nerve stimulation device is much less risky than brain surgery, and in this instance the results tend to be somewhat more predictable.
Summary – If we look at nerves as being communications links between various points in our body and the brain, it is easy to see why a nerve disorder of any kind can sometimes have unpleasant symptoms or consequences. When we get a pinched nerve, it can hurt, and sometimes pressure on a nerve can cause numbness in a certain part of the body. When we have a nerve that runs from the base of the brain to the colon, and connects with a number of organs along the way, we can better understand why vagus nerve disorders can exhibit such a variety of symptoms.